Flight attendants focus on health and safety

 - July 24, 2007, 6:49 AM

The ninth Annual NBAA Flight Attendant Conference in Anaheim, Calif., in mid-June broke no records for attendance. The number of attendees totaled 160–37 fewer than last year. But according to some of those present, the event this year was better organized and its content more professional.

“I’ve already e-mailed some people I know who didn’t attend and told them they missed a good one,” said Los Angeles-based contract flight attendant Jewell Miller a few days after the convention.

Miller began flying as a corporate flight attendant four years ago and now works regularly for half a dozen companies, primarily in the Los Angeles area. “The content was very professional, and it seemed less chaotic than past shows,” she said of the conference, adding, “We have enough chaos on the job; we don’t need more of it at the conference.”

Corporate flight attendants are aware that safety training is the first and most fundamental job requirement. But they are also aware that far more flight attendants have been fired for failing to arrange for catering than have been fired for not knowing how to open an over-wing emergency door on a Gulfstream. With this in mind, the conference devoted an afternoon on the second day to a catering roundtable sponsored by the committee’s catering working group.

Ten of business aviation’s major caterers participated in the session, singly or in partnership with another caterer. Seven presentations offered culinary guidance on subjects ranging from the ordering process and regional cuisine to international culture, themes and holidays.

“It was the absolute best," said Aimee Ferrea, director of corporate communications for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based aircraft management service Zero Eight Papa Aviation Services. “It’s too bad so many people left early [to go home] and missed it. The only thing they could have done better was schedule it for the first day instead of the second day.”

Joe Celentano, president of Rudy’s Inflight Catering of Teterboro, N.J., described the roundtable as “the most organized it’s ever been, with a good agenda.” Rudy’s was teamed with Tastefully Yours Catering, and according to Amanda Kraft, director of sales and marketing, “every 30-minute session was a sellout.”

Living with Stress
Among the more popular formal sessions was a presentation of the preliminary results of an ongoing aircrew stress study by principal researcher Dr. Bobbie Sullivan of Hawaii, entitled “Stress and the Health of Corporate Aircrews.”

The study was launched late last year to investigate the kinds of stress encountered by professional pilots and flight attendants at work and in their personal lives; how these people cope with the stress; and how the stress affects their health.

A total of 46 corporate flight attendants have participated in the study to date, and comparison of the results with those of an airline study was particularly interesting.

Many of the stress-related concerns of both groups were similar, from irregular work schedules and long-distance commuting to inconsistent sleeping and eating habits and retirement security. Corporate flight attendants, however, listed discrimination and high-altitude radiation as their primary concerns, while airline flight attendants put employer financial health, potential pay cuts and on-the-job injury at the top.

Corporate flight attendants described “more stressful events” as problems with the lavatory, aircraft system malfunctions and an ill or injured crewmember. Airline flight attendants listed as the more stressful events emergency landings, angry or abusive passengers and inflight turbulence.

Among stressful work-related events, corporate flight attendants listed last-minute schedule changes and cancellations, VVIPs, security, confidentiality, having only one flight attendant aboard and catering and FBO problems.

Are corporate flight attendants healthier? The answer, apparently, is yes. The study shows that corporate flight attendants, compared with airline flight attendants, “exercise more regularly, drink less alcohol, smoke less and consume less caffeine.” Also, in terms of body mass, they score better than airline flight attendants.

The research has spawned two more studies of interest to corporate flight attendants.

The Aircrew Healthcare Project focuses on a recurring complaint by flight attendants that healthcare providers are not always well informed with regard to the demands of the profession or the flying “lifestyle.” The goal of the study is the creation of training programs for healthcare providers that will familiarize them with the job characteristics and lifestyle of aircrew and their special healthcare needs.

The third project, Aviation Community 9/11, began when Sullivan noticed that a surprising number of respondents were commenting on how their lives and their jobs had changed since 9/11. People in the aviation industry, said Sullivan, “were among the most immediately and acutely affected.” Said Sullivan, more than one person remarked that “nothing has been the same since, and nothing will ever be the same again.” Sullivan and her colleagues hope the response will be on a scale large enough to generate at least a magazine article and possibly a book.

All three studies are now in three job-specific versions–one for airline aircrew, one for corporate and general aviation aircrew and one for ground crews.

Unlike some studies, Dr. Sullivan pointed out, the work being done by herself and colleagues at the Survey Data Lab has no hidden agenda. In fact, she said, funding for the studies has come from personal donations and contributions by family and friends. “We felt that keeping the studies independent of companies, unions and government agencies would produce more unbiased results, as there would be no ‘outside agenda’ to serve.”

To participate in any of the studies, log onto Dr. Sullivan’s Web site at http://AircrewStudy.com.

The In-flight Medical Emergency
Dr. Brent Blue, pony-tailed and outspoken, made it clear to those attending his session that in the management of an in-flight medical emergency, the corporate flight attendant is on the front line.

A senior FAA medical examiner, Dr. Blue is also founder and president of medical and safety products provider AeroMedix of Jackson, Wyo. His talk focused primarily on practical advice.

On the effectiveness of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), he offered an opinion in sharp contrast to that of much of the medical community and that of the general public. “CPR fulfills the human need to do something, but nothing is usually the result. If you have to do chest compressions, the real chance of survival is zero,” he said.

The first response to cardiopulmonary (heart attack) and cerebro-vascular (stroke) events is relatively simple, said Dr. Blue: reduce the cabin altitude, give the victim emergency oxygen and aspirin, get the assistance of an online remote medical emergency service, and get the patient to a medical facility as quickly as possible.

He also pointed out that the higher the cabin altitude and the lower the cabin oxygen level, the worse will be the psychotropic effects of intoxicants and sedatives, even in over-the-counter drugs.

And with regard to sleep aids (including over-the-counter drugs) used by aircrew to lessen the effects of jet lag, he cautioned that after about three consecutive nights, the user will discover he or she can’t sleep without it. However, he cautioned his audience, “Don’t take any of them, whether prescription or over the counter, with alcohol.”

Dr. Blue also noted that fear of flying is a frequent cause of anxiety attacks that are manifest in hyperventilation, during which the victim inhales and exhales rapidly and/or deeply, thereby overoxygenating the blood. “I have no idea where the idea of having the person breathe into a paper bag came from,” he said, “but it doesn’t work.” There are two solutions, he explained. The first is to distract the individual from the source of fear. “Have the person look at his fingernails and point out that if they’re pink, then he is in no danger.” A person who is hyperventilating is not suffering from a lack of oxygen. Quite the opposite, so of course, their fingernails will be a healthy pink color. More effective still, he said, is a tranquilizer.

While offering practical advice, Dr. Blue also prescribed a healthy dose of medical emergency training for corporate flight attendants. And he warned that the flight attendant should pay attention not only to the health of the passengers, but also to the health of the crew.

Culinary training is typically high on the list of qualifications required of a corporate flight attendant. At this year’s conference, a two-day course at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., was a topic of major interest.

The class was initially organized in 1997 to provide a higher level of cabin culinary service training. Part of the institute’s continuing education program under Nicole Gesh, the course consists of several daily sessions that integrate the skills taught at the institute with the specific job requirements of the corporate flight attendant. Included are such subjects as nutritional balance, food pairings, presentation and service protocol.

The next class is planned for September 8 and 9 at the institute’s campus and is priced at approximately $1,500 per person. As of early July, half of the seats available for the class had been spoken for and Gesh was already accepting reservations for the session scheduled for next spring. And she added that the institute is exploring the possibility of a similar course at its Napa Valley, Calif. campus.

Similar courses are available from other culinary schools. One of them is taught by Karen Hanson, president of Foodsearch. Previously a flight attendant, Hanson tailors a typical two-day class around culinary service requirements in a business jet cabin. The course can be taught at her kitchen in Richfield, Conn., or she will bring the show on location, and even use the client’s aircraft galley as a teaching platform. Prices for the two-day course start at $1,000 per person. Details are available from Hanson at (203) 438-0422; e-mail foodsearch@att.net.

“I don’t try to teach the flight attendant to become a chef,” said Hanson. “That’s not necessary. I want them to understand the concepts of food preparation and presentation and how to use what they have to the best advantage.”

Hanson had been scheduled to speak at the conference but canceled due to illness. She had been on a working trip through France and speculated that, ironically, something she ate had disagreed with her.

Flight Technicians Welcomed
Whether they are referred to as flight technicians or flight engineers, there was much talk at this year’s flight attendant convention of including this group in the corporate flight attendant community.

“Flight departments often assign them flight attendant duties,” said Jay Evans, NBAA staff liaison for the Flight Attendant Committee. “We want them to know they’re welcome at this conference, and it has a lot to offer them in terms of training and skills.”

“They have a tough job,” said Lynn Brocklehurst, a flight attendant with Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, Mich. “There are flight departments that expect them to spend an eight-hour trip on duty as a flight attendant, and then spend another four or five hours making repairs to the aircraft after they arrive, and then be ready to fly again the next morning.”

Evans said the inclusion of flight technicians/engineers extends as well to their eligibility for the 2005 Flight Attendant/Flight Technician Scholarship Program.

According to Evans, attendance at this year’s conference was “a little disappointing,” based on earlier expectations of some 200 attendees.

Meanwhile, planning has already begun for next year’s get-together, which will focus on providing information of immediate use to the corporate flight attendant. A date and venue have yet to be chosen, but an early-summer time frame is likely. West Coast cities, said Evans, are not being considered.

Corporate flight attendants who missed this year’s convention might want to consider attending the annual NBAA Meeting & Convention, scheduled for October 12 to 14 in Las Vegas. Among the special sessions is a flight attendant/flight technician seminar on the topic of flight ergonomics and avoiding personal injury. For more information, go to the NBAA Web site at www.nbaa.org.